If there is one aspect of rebuilding classic cars that we are glad has fallen to the wayside, it’s the unavailability of parts for popular models. Sure, there are some guys that wish they could find repop trim pieces for their ’73 Chevelle or ’77 Nova. Unfortunately, the market demand for those parts makes it hard to justify investing the enormous amounts of money it takes to reproduce parts for such a limited market.
The folks at Danchuk are fully aware of that situation, and have to constantly walk a fine line between developing a product versus the potential demand. But, when it comes to the company’s core market – the Tri-Five, the demand is usually high for just about anything they can make.
We thought it would enlightening to show what goes into reproducing trim, and see just what it takes to make a single piece. You might be surprised at the steps involved. Luckily, this is a stainless-steel trim piece, and not a pot-metal piece, which by the way, Danchuk manufactures as well. As you can probably imagine, those pot-metal pieces require an even lengthier process to create a quality product.
“What dictates which trim we develop is a combination of availability, the quality of the parts already available, and customer demand. If nobody is making it or the only moldings available are of a poor quality, then it gets top priority,” said Steve Brown, general manager of Danchuk. “Also, we pay close attention to customer requests. When we start hearing requests on a consistent basis for a specific year – or Bel Air versus 150 or 210 sedan – then the requested moldings move up the priority list.”
I can definitely say with confidence that our parts are always the same or better than OE. – Steve Brown, Danchuk Manufacturing
Chevrolet built hundreds of thousands of passenger cars between 1955 and 1957, and at the time, nobody realized the importance those models would have on American history. Seeing the USA in your Chevrolet is still as pertinent today as it ever was. The popularity of these models has sparked a huge market in regard to reproduction parts.
When you look at any Tri-Five, what is the first thing that grabs your attention? If we’re talking about a ’55, is it the tail lights? They are hugely different than the ’56 or ’57, so they are easy to distinguish. If we are talking about the ’57, it’s the Bel Air side trim that stands out. The Bel Air’s side trim is so distinctive and popular, that it has even been adapted to many non-Tri-Five models. Whichever model is your favorite, they all have one thing in common – stainless-steel trim.
The market for decent, used stainless trim has not dried up. But the supply has. Although a lot of those cars were built, the remaining trim, is either destroyed or already on someone else’s vehicle. That’s why quality aftermarket reproductions are needed. Thanks to Danchuk, the need to locate Tri-Five trim that is in nice shape, or worse, hardly usable, is a problem that is just a memory for many.
But these new, reproduction parts don’t just magically appear in the company’s catalog, there is a lot that goes into making the pieces we all want to get our hands on. “Design-to-production times definitely vary. We knocked out the 1956’s trim in about six months, which was a very quick development. The 1955 was a close second. The 1957 trim, however, has been giving us trouble on many fronts.” Steve explains, “Not only does this model have the most moldings per car (10), but with the 1955 and 1956 pieces selling well and needing to be produced again, those parts keep taking punch-press time away from the 1957 parts. We’ve had the tooling for the 1957’s completed for months, but we are still struggling to get a few of the tools the press time they need for completion.”
Like Steve said, there is a lot that goes into making these trim pieces. For starters, making a reproduction piece requires reverse engineering from an original piece. To do that, like you, they need to find original pieces of what they wish to reproduce. But, Danchuk can’t rely on just “decent” pieces. If they did, the reproduction pieces that are reproduced would be, well, just decent. We all know how hard it is to find even a decent piece of trim, let alone an exceptional piece. If a decent piece is all that can be located, it must be restored to excellent condition before it is reproduced. This is a time consuming – and expensive – process.
Let’s say that an original piece has been located and is now ready to be reproduced, how does that happen? If we go back to 1955, ’56, or’57, we would see huge machines stamping out pieces of trim that use dies designed and carved from large pieces of steel. The stamping process is much the same as it used to be, but now, the creation of the tooling is slightly different.
To begin the recreation process, the original piece of trim is scanned with a 3D scanner, which creates a CAD drawing. These computer-generated images are used to control CNC-machines that carve a permanent tooling-die from American-made, 4140 heat-treated tool steel. Are you noticing a trend that reproducing parts is not a quick and inexpensive process? The folks at Danchuk will also tell you a perfect part is never created on the first try. “We test-fit each piece multiple times to ensure an accurate reproduction part,” Steve said. Again, this takes time, and time is money.
We have all heard some enthusiasts complain when a reproduction part doesn’t fit as well as they think it should. Many times, however, it’s not the fault of the reproduction part. Since we’re talking about a Tri-Five Chevy, let’s keep in mind that those vehicles are 61, 62, and 63 years old. They’ve led a hard life, and the bodies are most-assuredly “tweaked” in some way. What’s more, do you really know what the tolerances were for fitment when the bodies were assembled? I’ll guarantee the standards weren’t as stringent as to what the aftermarket companies adhere.
“We always attempt to produce our reproductions the same as GM. Sometimes, we find even better ways, and sometimes we must alter our process to fit the type or size of machines that we have available to us. I can definitely say with confidence that our parts are always the same, or better, than OE,” Steve said.
But, how can Danchuk make better parts than originals? “We often use better materials, and we almost always hand-finish our parts. GM would also “straight plate” their parts. We hand-finish, polish, cover with heavy copper, copper buff, and then chrome finish. It’s what the industry refers to as show chrome,” he said. We’re certain the expedited timeline in which GM originally built the cars didn’t allow for that much attention to detail.
Now you have a brief glimpse into what it takes to make reproduction versions of the trim pieces that set the Tri-Five apart from other hot rods. But trim is not the only parts that Danchuk can supply for your Tri-Five Chevy. Whether you’re restoring an original car with original-style hubcaps and wide whites or constructing an out-of-this-world restomod, Danchuk has everything you need to build the best ride you can.